In 2021, shortly after its foundation Inevitable Foundationtheir non-profit organization that advocates for disabled screenwriters, Richie Siegel and Marisa Torelli-Pedevska wrote a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter explanation of the “consultant trap” in which too many scribes with disabilities find themselves. Rather than hiring them for the writers’ room, the industry has tended to relegate such performers (and those of other historically excluded identities) to brief, creatively limited gigs as consultants, paying little and building no career opportunities.
“The op-ed got a great response, but you go, now what?” Siegel tells THR. “How do we actually do something about this systemic problem instead of just verbalizing it? We didn’t intend to write 10 more opinion pieces. We could meet people and try to convince them, but we believe in direct action. It’s aggressive and I think people recognize its aggression in a good way.”
The solution the Foundation came up with is the Disabled Consultant Futures Fund, a bold proposal to give disabled creatives leverage when considering consultant offerings and greater choice in deciding which opportunities serve their own professional goals. Mentioned for the first time in the Foundation open letter to Hollywood Published last week and signed by 35 disabled and related industry figures, the Foundation is offering to pay disabled artists considering a consulting position 150 percent of their initial offer in order to negotiate better pay or an actual creative role – or to run away and work on their own projects instead.
“My long-term goal is to be a writer, but I have to take on these consulting jobs to make money,” says one disabled writer. “You always take them in the hope that the people on the other end will hire you as a writer for the next season, but the reality, at least to me, is that hasn’t happened: ‘We want you back as a consultant. ‘ Now they have you at a much cheaper rate At the end of the day, when renting studios disability consultants instead of writers, the studios win for saving money, the non-disabled writers win for getting more credits to their name, and the people who lose are the historically oppressed minority group.”
Consultants’ fees can be as low as $15 an hour to read a script for fact-checking and sensitivity (not the most creatively rewarding work for artists who make extra money as consultants, who are explicitly told not to be credited for creative contributions so as not to conflict with WGA jurisdiction). Because Hollywood studios and production companies offer their consultants so little, Inevitable has not had to raise additional funds to launch its fund to outbid them.
“This is not something we had funding for; we’re basically funding this out of our overall operational support,” says Siegel (Inevitable is supported by the Ford, MacArthur, Doris Duke, and Nielsen Foundations, among other donors, including media companies like Netflix, Disney, AMC Networks, and Spotify). not that we’ve had to commit millions of dollars to this it’s actually a very finite amount of money and that’s the problem we’re trying to solve but that means the impact or the ROI [to disabled creatives and to the mission] can be quite drastic.”
Inevitable worked with attorneys and other expert advisors to refine the process for reviewing applications for the Fund and structuring disbursements. Fund recipients do not necessarily receive a grant, but rather are designated by the Foundation as contractors, helping it collect valuable research on the state of disability counseling in Hollywood (by sharing information about their counseling offerings) that Inevitable plans to publish later this year.
But getting a 150 percent counteroffer to walk out is actually only the Fund’s third most desired outcome. Since Inevitable’s main goal is to support disabled writers in their careers of choice, among the many resources offered as part of the nonprofit’s new campaign for Hire Disabled Writers are a Letter of Rights and an email template that giving them the language they may need to advocate for their hiring as true creatives.
Siegel says the most challenging aspect of the Futures Fund’s years-long development process, more than the logistics, was getting the right message. “We’re not anti-consulting, but we’re still pro-disability creatives,” he says. “We care about getting these writers, producers and directors into work, but we also believe there is just and unfair work, and problematic work in the short, medium and long term. Consulting is good in conjunction with the presence of other disabled creatives in positions of power in the project. If you remove that, it becomes problematic because it’s complementary, not additive.”
To make the jobs of those who choose to take on consulting jobs more equitable, Inevitable has designed a schedule of minimums (modeled on the Writers Guild’s, but not legally binding) to create best practice standards for wage rates, transportation and meals costs , insurance and overtime, as well as a contract driver template (with help from attorneys at Sloane Offer, who work pro bono) to get those stipulations in writing. “[The consulting field] is the whole Wild West. Most people who advise imagine getting paid $300 — you’re not going to hire a lawyer to negotiate that,” says Siegel.
Adds a disabled actor who has done a lot of consulting work and advised Inevitable on the development of the fund: “I don’t want to take a job if it’s low pay, but at the same time there’s this [feeling of] responsibility: If not me, then who? As an actor, I’m lucky enough to have an agent or manager to come up with the deal, and a lot of things that Richie has done [for consultants] helps relieve some of that pressure to be able to come back with a professional counteroffer.”
The consultant trap isn’t just affecting creatives with disabilities — Disney hired Indigenous and Chinese consultants for the avatar sequel and its live-action Mulan, which are both written and directed by white filmmakers — and Inevitable’s Disabled Consultant Futures Fund could potentially serve as a model for other affected artists. “I am not aware of any other precedent like this in the industry, which is part about negotiating leverage, part about hedging the downside, and part about financial money relief,” says Siegel. “The hypothesis is, can we spend $30,000 to $50,000 in the next year — and I think that could be on the high side [for the disability consulting market], honestly – and potentially unlock millions of dollars in revenue for disabled writers? I would take that bet any day.